More Visibility for Disability

Over the past several years there has been a focus on diversity and inclusion of all types in advertising, content, and consumer products. The introduction of characters with physical and mental disabilities has been a recent manifestation of this trend, with more and more examples in the toy and children’s entertainment industries, especially in the last 18 months:

• Spin Master’s toy line tied to its in-house developed series Paw Patrol, airing on Nick Jr., has added its first wheelchair-bound pup as part of its new theme, Dino Rescue, launching in fall 2020. The character, Rex, is a dinosaur expert.

• Mattel’s American Girl introduced a new doll this year, Joss Kendrick, who is deaf and uses a hearing aid. The book based on the character explains some of the facts of Joss’s daily life, such as that she needs to be able to read her friends’ lips when they talk to her or that she sometimes turns her hearing aid off when she wants to ignore her brother.

• In 2019, Peppa Pig, the series from eOne (now part of Hasbro) introduced its first disabled member of Peppa’s play group, a wheelchair-using character called Mandy Mouse. Licensed products include a reader from Scholastic called Peppa’s New Friend.

• Mattel added the first dolls with prosthetic limbs and wheelchairs into its Barbie Fashionistas line, which features diversity in ethnicity, body type, and other characteristics, last year. The company worked with a teenaged disability activist, Jordan Reeves, and UCLA Mattel Children’s Hospital to design the products. A Barbie Dreamhouse ramp is also available.

• Also in 2019, Mattel created a Hot Wheels Wheelie Chair inspired by the one used by extreme athlete Aaron “Wheelz” Fotheringham. Fotheringham, who was born with spina bifida, is an adaptive motocross athlete who performs for Nitro Circus and elsewhere.

• Sesame Workshop added Julia, a friend of Elmo’s who has autism, to episodes of Sesame Street in 2017. She and her family and companion dog have appeared in digital formats since 2015, as part of Sesame Workshop’s “See Amazing in All Children” autism project. Playskool and Gund are among the licensees selling Julia merchandise.

• In 2016, Lego introduced its first minifigure in a wheelchair, as part of a Lego City set. The launch followed a petition from an online campaign with 20,000 signatures asking the company to make figures depicting disabled children.

Aside from these examples from the toy and children’s entertainment industries, another demonstration of this trend is the growing number of adaptive products available for sale in mainstream channels, including apparel, shoes, and Halloween costumes, albeit with few licensed examples to date.

Separately, as the spread of COVID-19 is affecting all aspects of business and daily life, we have published our take on some of the potential short- and long-term ramifications on the licensing business. We cannot add much to the already-ubiquitous coverage, especially given the high degree of uncertainty and the constantly changing status of the crisis. What we can do is offer a checklist of various considerations for the licensing community to think about as it positions itself to move forward. Read it here and stay safe.

This month’s edition of Raugust Communications’ e-newsletter comes out tomorrow, Tuesday, March 17, 2020. The Topic of the Month will focus on the sustainability trends seen at Toy Fair New York and how they are relevant to the greater licensing business. The Datapoint research spotlight will touch on business models in the art licensing sector. If you’re not a subscriber yet, please sign up here.

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